Your complicated tongue, when water makes fire, metal-eating robots, and more

Published April 23, 2020

If you give a rat a doobie

If you want to hook a rat on cocaine, you should start it on marijuana (and start it young). It’s not that pot is a gateway drug — not exactly. It’s more that giving cannabis to young rats makes them more sensitive to the effects of coke.

“Our findings suggest that exposure to psychoactive cannabinoids during adolescence primes the animals’ prefrontal cortex, so that it responds differently to cocaine compared to animals who had been given cocaine without having previously experienced cannabis.”

Start ’em while they’re young.


* I don’t have to add “the component of marijuana that gives a high” do I? You know that already. OK, never again.
tl;dr: Marijuana seems to prime the brain to the effects of cocaine

Foodies are older than you think

Food culture started a lot earlier than researchers expected. As far back as 6,000 to 7,000 years ago, different hunter-gatherer tribes had different tastes in food “even in areas where there was a similar availability of resources.”

Our study suggests that culinary practices were not influenced by environmental constraints but rather were likely embedded in some long-standing culinary traditions and cultural habits.”

tl;dr: Even when they had the same foods, early hunter-gatherer tribes developed cultural preferences.

Rain and volcanoes

Study Suggests Rainfall Triggered 2018 Kīlauea Eruption

[The] model results suggest that, in early 2018, fluid pressure had been at its highest in almost half a century, weakening the volcanic edifice, which the authors propose enabled magma to break through confining rock beneath the volcano and lead to the subsequent eruption.


Did heavy rains trigger the eruption of the most dangerous U.S. volcano? Scientists are skeptical

[P]ressure changes from rainfall would be so small that they wouldn’t have made much difference. “They’re smaller than the stresses from tides from the Moon.”

tl;dr: Some geophysicists think rain can increase the chances of a volcanic eruption, but others are iffy.

The sleep-fat connection

Sleeping a lot doesn’t make you fat (say researchers). Being fat makes it harder to sleep. And that can lead to a vicious cycle as “acute sleep disruption can result in increased appetite and insulin resistance.”

tl;dr: Obesity makes sleep more difficult, leading to more weight gain.

Your tongue is more complicated than you think

Gut microbiome. Skin microbiome. So why should the tongue be left out? That’s right — not only does your tongue have bacteria on it, those bacteria form well-defined colonies in different areas.

“Bacteria on the tongue are a lot more than just a random pile. They are more like an organ of our bodies,” said lead researcher Gary Borisy. He even titled his image “Tongue Consortium”:

Courtesy Steven Wilbert and Gary Borisy, The Forsyth Institute

Bonus: Story includes the surprising phrase, “our mouth’s main muscle remains somewhat of a mystery to scientists.”

tl;dr: A new image shows that tongue bacteria live in well-defined colonies.

Hungry, hungry robots

This is sure to make sci-fi writers happy: UPenn researchers have developed a robot that can ‘eat’ metal for energy.

[A]ny metal surface it touches functions as the anode of a battery, allowing electrons to flow to the cathode and power the connected device.

This effectively gives them a power density as good or better than traditional batteries — at half the weight.

And this is not foreshadowing at all:

In the long term, this type of energy source could be the basis for a new paradigm in robotics, where machines keep themselves powered by seeking out and “eating” metal, breaking down its chemical bonds for energy like humans do with food.

tl;dr: A new robot can power itself using any metal surface it glides over.

A year of rice and toilet paper

What will future historians think of this year of CoviD-19 and how ordinary people handled life? Now’s the time to tell them.

Arizona State University is creating “A Journal of the Plague Year: an Archive of CoVid19” where anyone can submit their stories to the ever-growing “crowdsourced digital archive.”

We are acting not just as historians, but as chroniclers, recorders, memoirists, as image collectors. We invite you to share your experience and impressions of how CoVid19 has affected our lives, from the mundane to the extraordinary, including the ways things haven’t changed at all.

The site doesn’t explain how (or if) the final archive will be curated, so hopefully it won’t be overrun with silliness and vitriol … then again, maybe that’s the message we need to send.

tl;dr: Submit your stories, photos, or more to a digital archive of the CoviD pandemic

Window power

Aussie researchers have developed a semi-transparent solar cell that can be incorporated into windows.

This technology will transform windows into active power generators, potentially revolutionising building design. Two square metres of solar window, the researchers say, will generate about as much electricity as a standard rooftop solar panel.

It converts about 17 percent of sunlight into electricity, which is so-so for a traditional solar panel. But it also lets 10 percent of light through, making it a pretty good trade-off.

Of course, announcements of game-changing energy breakthroughs are a dime a dozen, so let’s wait and see. (They even say they hope to have a commercial product … within 10 years.)

tl;dr: A semi-transparent solar cell could turn windows into power generators.

Quick CoviD-19 tidbit

Remdesivir keeps looking good as the treatment of choice.

Early results of two remdesivir trials show it’s effective for treating CoviD-19.
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